Year of Four Emperors

60-70 A.D.
Roman Emperors — versus — Galba, Otho, Vitellius

Galba (June 68 to Jan 69) vs. Otho (Jan 69 to Apr 69)

For nearly 100 year (31 B.C. to 68 A.D.), the descendents of Caesar had been emperors of Rome. When Nero was deposed by the army in 68, he did not have an immediate heir, and virtually the entire family of Caesar had been wiped out by murder and treachery. The question of who should replace Nero as emperor was an open one, but the army had a ready candidate in Galba (reigned June 68 to Jan 69), an experienced and well-respected General. Unfortunately, he ascended the imperial thrown at an advanced age, long past his productive years. The crisis of succession came when, aware of his infirmities, he selected a competent and honest heir, disappointing the hopes of several conniving and treacherous ministers, Otho most notable among them. Otho (reigned Jan 69 to Apr 69) then had himself declared emperor by the discontented Praetorian guard, and prepared for war against Galba. Galba however, was to ill to fight, and was beheaded by someone hoping to gain the favor of the new emperor.

Otho (Jan 69 to Apr 69) vs. Vitellius (Apr 69 to Dec 69)

As soon as the death of Galba was known, Vitellius, a commander in Northern Germany, was declared by his legions to be the new emperor. Unlike Otho, however, who had masterminded his own accession, Vitellius was popular with his army mainly for his lack of discipline, and his accession was purely the handiwork of his ambitious underlings. The two foremost of his generals, Valens and Caecina, led a march of Vitellius' legions into Italy in order to contest Otho's accession, and met near Cremona. There they forced two battles, before Otho had time to collect all of his imperial forces. The first, at Campus Castorum was inconclusive, but Bedriacum was a decisive defeat for Otho's troops. Otho then killed himself rather than throw the country into civil war.

Vitellius (Apr 69 to Dec 69) vs. Vespasian (Dec 69, reigned 10 years)

Vitellius (reigned Apr 69 to Dec 69) eventually arrived in Rome, but his administration from the beginning was unsatisfactory. He was a weak and indulgent leader, entirely controlled by his generals. At this point, all of the legions in the east, which until that point had not been involved in any rebellions, declared for Vespasian, who was currently occupied with the siege of Jerusalem. Several of his armies then descended upon Italy to give battle to Vitellius. Meanwhile, Vitellius attempted to resign, but was not permitted to do so by his followers. The armies of Vespasian marched on Italy, and legions were called from throughout the Western Empire to prepare for civil war. The most significant battle was fought at Cremona, but skirmishes abounded once the army approached Rome, and Vitellus was dragged from his hiding place and murdered.

Finally, in Vespasian (reigned 70 to 79), Rome was fortunate to have a competent and capable emperor. He quickly set about restoring order. However, during the preceding civil wars, the Gallic Province of Batvia had revolted, destroyed two legions, and declared itself independent from Rome. Vespasian took the time to raise a large enough force to overwhelm the rebels, marched over the Alps and routed the Batavians at the battle of Bingen.

Counting the Batavian rebellion, six men had claimed the imperial throne in less than a two year period. Nero died in June 68. Galba ruled until January 69, Otho until April 69, Vitellius until Dec 69, and finally Vespasian who ruled for ten years until 79 A.D. In addition, Julius Sabinus briefly declared himself emperor of Gaul in early 70. Given the great difficulty of the situation, Rome was fortunate its civil wars in 69 were as limited as they were.

DateBattle Summary
Battle of Bedriacum (Revolt of Vitellius ) Vitellians victory
Fought April 14, 69, between the legions of the Emperor Otho and the Vitellians under Valens. The Imperial troops were utterly routed, and driven back to their camp, which they surrendered to the Vitellians on the following day.
Battle of Campus Castorum (Revolt of Viteltius ) Vitellians victory
Fought in 69 between the revolted legionaries, 70,000 strong, under Valens and Caecina, and the army of the Emperor Otho under Suetonius Paulinus. The Imperial troops gained some advantage, but Suetonius did not consider himself strong enough to follow it up, and was relieved of his command by Otho.
Battle of Cremona (Afrikaner-Zulu Wars ) Flavians victory
Fought December 69, between the Vitellians, and the Flavians under Antonius Primus, 40,000 strong. The Vitellians, who were without a leader, having deposed their general, Caecina, were attacked in their camp, and after a hard fight, which lasted throughout the night, were totally routed. The victors sacked and burnt Cremona.
Battle of Bingen (Revolt of Vitellius ) Romans victory
In the year 70, Petilius Cerialis, who, with four Roman legions, had crossed the Alps from Switzerland, surprised the revolted Gauls under Tutor, in their camp at Bingen. The Gallic legionaries in Tutor's army deserted to the Romans, and Tutor was totally defeated.

Short Biography
Galba Declared emperor after Nero was deposed. Served less than a year.
Otho Emperor for three months in 69 A.D. Committed suicide rather than continue civil war.
Vitellius Emperor for nine months in 69 A.D. Known as an incompetent glutton.
Vespasian First emperor of humble origins. Founder of Flavian dynasty.
Sabinus Led a failed rebellion in Northern Germany during year of 3 emperors. Executed by Vespasian.
Valens and Caecina Commanders of legion of the lower Rhine. Supporters and advisors of Vitellius.

Story Links
Book Links
Nobleman of the Old School  in  Pictures from Roman Life and Story  by  Alfred J. Church
Battle of Bedriacum and the Death of Otho  in  Pictures from Roman Life and Story  by  Alfred J. Church
Imperial Glutton  in  Pictures from Roman Life and Story  by  Alfred J. Church
Burning of the Capitol  in  Pictures from Roman Life and Story  by  Alfred J. Church
Man of Business  in  Pictures from Roman Life and Story  by  Alfred J. Church
Two Short Reigns  in  The Story of the Romans  by  H. A. Guerber
Titus in  Famous Men of Rome  by  John H. Haaren & A. B. Poland
Galba  in  Our Young Folks' Plutarch  by  Rosalie Kaufman
Otho  in  Our Young Folks' Plutarch  by  Rosalie Kaufman
Reign of a Glutton  in  Historical Tales: Roman  by  Charles Morris

Image Links

The Followers of Civilis
 in Greatest Nations - Netherlands

Vitellius Torn by the Mob
 in Greatest Nations - Rome